Inmates have been smuggling prohibited or illegal items, such as drugs, tobacco, cellphones, and weapons, into jails and prison for decades. They often recruit friends or relatives to bring unauthorized items during visitation or send them through the mail. Sometimes, guards or staff members are on the take. In recent years, there has been an increase in the use of drones to fly items over prison walls.
In a highly-publicized case last year, an Oregon woman was sentenced to two years in federal prison for conspiracy after she passed seven tiny balloons filled with methamphetamine into her inmate boyfriend’s mouth during a long kiss during visitation. Two of the balloons ruptured and he died later of methamphetamine toxicity, the Associated Press reported.
Regardless of the technique, smuggling contraband and prohibited substances into jail or prison is a crime. “Helping” an inmate get a prohibited item can lead to serious consequences both at the state and federal level.
In Texas, there are two separate state penal code offenses that cover items that can’t be brought into or possessed in a Texas jail or prison including:
- Prohibited Substance or Items in a Correction Facility
- Contraband in a Correctional Facility
Here’s an overview of the state statutes, punishment ranges, and some examples of people who were arrested for smuggling prohibited items or contraband into jail or prison.
What Constitutes a “Correctional Facility” in Texas?
Under Texas Penal Code 1.07, a correction facility is a designated place of confinement for an individual who has been arrested, charged or convicted of a criminal offense. It includes:
- A city or county jail
- State run or private contract prisons
- Community correction facilities, such as a halfway house
What are “Prohibited Substances and Items” in a Correctional Facility?
Texas law prohibits the possession and distribution of drugs, alcohol, weapons, tobacco or money in a correctional facility. This offense can occur in several ways. Sometimes, an arrested person will conceal a drug during his or her arrest or before sentencing and it gets into the jail that way. Other times, a friend or family member or corrections officer may provide them with the prohibited substance.
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Under Texas Penal Code 38.11, it’s illegal in Texas for an individual to provide or attempt to provide an inmate at a correctional facility the following substances:
- A controlled substance or dangerous drug
- A deadly weapon
- A cellular phone or other wireless communications device or components
- Cigarette or tobacco product (unless the sheriff or jail administrator allows it)
What is the Punishment for Prohibited Substances and Items in a Correctional Facility?
Individuals who take a prohibited item into a correctional facility or on property owned or controlled by a correctional facility, face a third-degree felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. Federal charges are also possible.
What Constitutes “Contraband” in a Correctional Facility? How is it Different than a “Prohibited Substance”?
When many people think of “contraband,” they often think of illegal drugs or guns. However, in jail or prison, contraband refers to items that have been banned by jail or prison operators, which may be harmless or legal in the free world. This could include coffee, soap, syringes, pornography, aspirin, or outside food. Facility operators often ban certain items because they can be used to make weapons, or because they are items that the inmates fight over or use as a substitute for money. Each correctional facility will have its own rules regarding contraband smuggling.
Under Texas Penal Code 38.114, it is illegal to provide contraband to an inmate, introduce contraband to a correctional facility, or possess contraband in the correctional facility. (Alcohol, cigarettes, money and phones are covered under the “Prohibited Substances and Items in a Correctional Facility” statute above.)
What is the Punishment for Contraband Smuggling in a Correctional Facility?
Jail or prison employees or volunteers who provide, introduce, or possesses contraband at a correctional facility face a Class B misdemeanor charge. All other offenses under this statute are Class C misdemeanors. Federal charges are also possible.
What are federal charges that can stem from smuggling drugs or other items into a correctional facility?
Over the years, dozens of people have been charged federally for smuggling items into a correctional facility. Charges have included bribery, racketeering, drug trafficking, conspiracy, and engaging in organized criminal activity.
Examples of People Arrested for Smuggling Items into Jail or Prison
There are stories abound about friends and family members sending inmates drugs in cards or books. Prison guards have been arrested for smuggling cellphone into prisons. Lately, drones are being used to drop in goods. Here’s some examples of individuals who were arrested for smuggling items into a Texas jail or prison. Some were charged by state officials, while others were prosecuted federally.
- An Tarrant County Jail inmate charged with capital murder picked up a new charge of possessing a prohibited item in correctional facility in August 2018 after he was allegedly caught with a cellphone tucked inside his underwear.
- A Katy Texas woman was charged with prohibited substance in a correctional facility in July 2018 after officials said she tried to smuggle methamphetamine into prison by concealing the drug behind a picture glued to a handmade card.
- A North Texas jail inmate and a female friend were convicted and sentenced to four years in federal prison in September 2017 after she mailed him a greeting card soaked in liquid methamphetamine.
- In 2015, a Brazos County jailer pleaded guilty to smuggling tobacco products to a jail inmate in exchange for money.
- Three people, including a former corrections officer, were arrested in 2016 for attempting to deliver a package containing marijuana and tobacco to an inmate at the Bowie County Annex Jail.
- A correctional officer at the Diboll Correctional Center was arrested on a felony bribery charge in 2017 for allegedly smuggling synthetic marijuana to at least two inmates in exchange for money.
- In 2012, a Granbury woman was arrested after allegedly using a Bible to smuggle methamphetamine to an inmate in the Hood County Jail.
- More than a dozen former corrections officers were arrested and charged with federal racketeering in 2012 for allegedly smuggling cell phones into the McConnell Unit Prison in Beeville, Texas.
- Two Tarrant County Jailers were arrested in 2002 for sneaking items, including marijuana, to inmates in exchange for money.
- A correctional officer and her husband were arrested in 2016 on accusations that they smuggled K2, a type of synthetic marijuana, into prison and sold it to inmates.
If you or a loved one is facing charges stemming from contraband or a prohibited substance in a correctional facility, you need a skilled defense attorney by your side. Our team includes former prosecutors and board certified attorneys with decades of experience. Call today for a complimentary strategy session. During this call we will:
- Discuss the facts of your case;
- Discuss the legal issues involved, including the direct and collateral consequences of the allegation; and
- Discuss the defenses that apply to your plan and in general terms discuss our approach to your case.
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Also published on Medium.